To celebrate Passion Passport’s five year anniversary, we teamed up with ONA Bags and created a collection of wanderlust-inspired camera bags in five limited edition colors, chosen to represent the vibrant, whimsical nature of travel and the rich experiences we can have anywhere in the world. We gifted a different colored bag to five talented photographers and challenged them to incorporate them into their shots, and daily lives.

Next up in this series is Laura Austin, a lifestyle photographer whose shots of the Golden State and the world beyond have us ready for our carry-ons. We caught up with Laura to learn more about her journey with photography and how the bag impacted her creative process.  

Creatives utilize various mediums to express themselves. Why did you choose photography?

I didn’t land on photography right off the bat. I explored several different forms of creativity before I ended up pursuing photography full time. I started off as a graphic designer, but after spending two years in a cubicle glued to a computer screen, I realized I didn’t want to be confined to a desk. From there, I took a job as the online editor of Snowboarder Magazine, where I was able to travel the world while writing and shooting photos. Once again, since I don’t like constraint, the box of action sports felt too limiting after a while. But it was at that job that I discovered travel and photography were my main passions… and now my camera has become my ticket to see the world!

Speaking of which, how has photography changed the way you see the world?

Well, I’ve always been an observer — the quiet one who doesn’t say much but absorbs everything. This trait has simply carried over into my photography. I’m always scanning my environment, looking for those beautiful little details that would normally go unnoticed. That said, photography, in particular, has changed the way I look at and appreciate the nuances of light. I now get giddy when I see beautiful, natural light, whether I have a camera in my hand or not.

Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you go about planning a shoot?

It is very circumstantial, but I like to be pretty spontaneous when shooting, letting my reaction to the environment and subject dictate how and what I shoot. In my personal travel work, the only planning I do is choosing what locations I want to visit. From there, I just see what I’m inspired to do once I arrive. When shooting commercial jobs, however, I normally work within the guidelines of a shot list — so, more planning is required. In those situations, I tend to have a general shot in mind but still allow for some spontaneity. Personally, I think if you over-plan in advance, you’ll have tunnel vision on set and risk missing out on a beautiful moment you didn’t expect.

How does your environment impact your work?

In terms of the setting I’m shooting in, I treat the environment as if it were a character in a story I’m trying to tell. From where I stand, it is of equal importance as any person in the photo. I like to shoot pretty wide and pulled-back shots, so the model isn’t the only focus in the image. The environment completely dictates how I shoot a photo: I first figure out from what angle the background will look best, then I insert the talent. The environment in which I am shooting shapes the images I create.

How would you describe your photography experience with the ONA x PP bag? Does it change anything about the way that you shoot? The way that you travel for photography?

The ONA x PP bag has been a great addition to my camera gear. Before I had this bag, I had to carry a pretty bulky backpack containing my camera and all my lenses — no matter if I needed all that equipment or not. So I would tend to only have my big DSLR on me when I was on a photo shoot. But the ONA bag is much more low-profile; I can comfortably carry my DSLR and a lens or two around with me on a more regular basis, whether I know I am going to shoot photos or not. It has enabled me to shoot more spontaneously in situations where I would have previously been bummed I didn’t have my good camera with me.

How did the signature bag color inspire you to get creative about your city?

It’s been fun to take the yellow ONA bag and figure out how to incorporate it into the Los Angeles landscape. To be honest, I tend to escape the city to shoot photos, but this project challenged me to see this place that has become so familiar with a fresh set of eyes. By taking a closer look at my surroundings — specifically seeking out yellows to match the bag — I noticed details about my city that I would typically take for granted.

Why do you think collaboration in the travel/photography space is so important?

Photography can be a pretty isolating career path if you let it be. You tend to only see things from your narrow perspective, but collaboration opens you up to new ideas and offers inspiration you might not have otherwise been exposed to. It can also be a pretty competitive field, so it’s always nice to have the opportunity to lift each other up.

Like this interview? Stay tuned to read more in our ONA series — and if you’re a photographer, consider grabbing a bag for yourself!

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Passion Passport’s community includes explorers, creators and storytellers from around the globe. Their travel experiences have challenged them, shaped their perspective of the world and given them a better sense of who they are. Both online and off, Passion Passport offers the opportunity to connect with one another, to share those pivotal moments, and to travel with purpose.